DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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January 1, 1894
Ilford, Essex, United Kingdom
January 1, 1988
Greek sculpture scholar and Yates Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of London, 1929-1948. Ashmole was the son of an auctioneer, William Ashmole, and Sarah Caroline Wharton Tiver (Ashmole). He was related to Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), the namesake of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, for which Ashmole would one day work. After attending Forest School (1903–1911) he was admitted to Hertford College, Oxford, in 1913 awarded the Essex Scholarship in Classics. However, Britain entered into World War I the following year and Ashmole joined the 11th Royal Fusiliers. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme. He rose to the rank of captain and earned the Military Cross before discharge in 1918. Ashmole returned to Oxford studying classical archaeology under Percy Gardner (q.v.) and John D. Beazley (q.v.). He married Dorothy De Peyer (d. 1991) in 1920. In 1923 Ashmole received his B. Litt. He joined Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum the same year as the assistant curator of coins. In 1925 he was appointed director of the British School at Rome, in part to repair the School's reputation after the joint dismissal of both its director, Thomas Ashby (q.v.) and assistant director, Eugénie Strong (q.v.). At the School he assisted in catalog of the sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori edited under H. Stuart Jones (q.v.). He also worked closely with the young sculptors and architects training there and gained an appreciation for modernist architecture. In 1928 he returned to England to become the Yates Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of London in 1929, a position he termed "the research scholar's ultimate sinecure." He and Beazley collaborated on the Greek art chapter for the second edition of the Cambridge Ancient History, 1928 ff., Beazley writing on painting and Ashmole on sculpture. The essay proved so popular that was issued as an independent work in 1932. Ashmole contacted two architects formerly from the British School in Rome, Amyas Douglas Connell (1901-1980) and Basil Robert Ward (1902-1976), to design a modernist concrete-framed country house in Amersham-on-the-Hill, Buckinghamshire, in 1929. Called "High and Over," the house is today listed as an historic building for its architectural importance. In a famous episode in 1930, Ashmole wrote an article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies famously exposing a late Archaic sculpture as a forgery on the basis of carving technique alone, disputing the claim by the late Franz Studniczka (q.v.) that the work was genuine. He delivered the Hertz lectures at the British Academy in 1934 which were published as Late Archaic and Early Classical Greek Sculpture in Sicily and South Italy the same year. Ashmole entered into a public row with the Italian archaeologist Giulio Emanuele Rizzo (q.v.) in that 1930s over Rizzo's method and his quoting Ashmole radically out of context. He advised on the 1936 film I, Claudius starring Charles Laughton. In 1937, zealous museum employees at the British Museum, under Frederick Norman Pryce (q.v.), "cleaned" the famous Elgin marbles in preparation for the new gallery in which they were to be installed, funded by Joseph Duveen (1869-1939). The abrasive cleaning made them seem more brilliant but effaced their original condition. The process was halted in 1938, but a scandal erupted in the press (see John Forsdyke, q.v., and Roger Hinks, q.v.) and public confidence in the museum was eroded. As a result, Ashmole was appointed Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum in 1939 in addition to his University of London responsibilities (to 1956) to restore public faith in the museum. Ashmole led the Greek and Roman Department deftly and largely honorarily because he retained his position at the University of London. Through nurture and shrewd personal judgment, Ashmole allowed the department's emerging scholars, Martin Robertson (q.v.) and Denys Haynes (q.v.), to shine in their own right. When World War II was declared, Ashmole volunteered again in the military, this time in the Royal Air Force, 1941-1945, serving initially in Greece and again receiving a medal (Hellenic Flying Cross), retiring as a wing commander. After the war, he hired and again cultivated the careers for next generation of museum scholars, including Reynold Higgins (q.v.), Peter E. Corbett (q.v.), and Donald E. Strong (q.v.). He resigned as Yates chair in 1948 to participate fully in the reinstallation of the British Museum as Keeper. In 1956, his mentor Beazley, the long-time Lincoln Chair of Classical Art at Oxford, retired and Ashmole succeeded him. The following year Ashmole gave the Italian lectures at the British Academy. He retired from Oxford in 1961 and accepted the first Geddes-Harrower Professor of Greek Art and Archaeology at Aberdeen, Scotland. He remained there until 1963. Ashmole was visiting professor at Yale University in 1964, presenting the Semple lectures at the University of Cincinnati. He gave the Wrightsman lectures in New York in 1967, published in 1972 as Architect and Sculptor in Classical Greece. He advised the billionaire J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) on his classical art acquisitions. The Getty Museum dedicated the first two volumes of its Museum Journal to Ashmole. He continued to do fieldwork at the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Turkey. A skilled photographer, his large photographic archive of classical sculpture is housed at King's College, London, (Ashmole Archives) with an additional set to the Beazley Archive at the Ashmolean Museum. He died at his home in Scotland and is buried at St. Mary's Church, Iffley, Oxfordshire. Students whom he inspired included Emeline H. Richardson (q.v.).
Sources: Ashmole, Bernard. Bernard Ashmole, 1894-1988: An Autobiography. Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994; Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 29-30; Boardman, John. "Bernard Ashmole." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; [obituaries:] "Prof. Bernard Ashmole, Scholar of Classical Sculpture." Times (London), February 26 1988; Barron, J. P. "Bernard Ashmole: Marble and the Greeks." The Guardian (London), March 2, 1988; Boardman, John. "Bernard Ashmole, 1894-1988." American Journal of Archaeology 93, no. 1 (January 1989): 135-136; Robertson, Martin. "Bernard Ashmole, 1894–1988." Publications of the British Academy 75 (1989): 313–28.
Bibliography: [complete bibliography:] Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain: a Loan Exhibition in Aid of the Ashmole Archive. London: Sotheby's, 1986; contributed, Jones, Henry Stuart, ed. A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures Preserved in the Municipal Collections of Rome: the Sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori. 2 vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1926; [sections on art and sculpture, unacknowledged] and Beazley, John D. "Athens, 478-401 B. C." (vol. 5) and "Macedon, 401-301 B. C." (vol. 6), and "Rome and the Mediterranean, 218-133 B. C." (vol. 8), of The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928-39, reprinted separately as, Greek Sculpture & Painting to the End of the Hellenistic period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932; [refuting Studniczka] "An Alleged Archaic Group." Journal of Hellenic Studies 50 (1930): 99-104; Late Archaic and Early Classical Greek Sculpture in Sicily and South Italy [offprint of the Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 20] London: H. Milford, 1934; [criticism of Rizzo] "Manners and Methods in Archaeology." Journal of Hellenic Studies 58 (1938), pp. 240-246, and "Same Methods." Journal of Hellenic Studies 59 (1939): 286; The Classical Ideal in Greek Sculpture. Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple. Cincinnati: University of Cincinnati, 1964; and Yalouris, Nicholas. Olympia: The Sculpture of the Temple of Zeus. London: Phaidon, 1967; and Young, William J. "Boston Relief and the Ludovisi Throne." Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 66 no. 346 (1968): 124-66; and Groenewegen-Frankfort, Henrietta. Art of the Ancient World. New York: New American Library, 1967; Architect and Sculptor in Classical Greece. Wrightsman Lectures. New York: New York University Press, 1972.